Sunday, September 27, 2015

Coffee in Venice - The Good Guys Unite!

Afghan Refugee Girl by Steve McCurry
(Venice, Italy) You already know award-winning photojournalist Steve McCurry because he took one of the most iconic images of all time, Afghan Refugee Girl back in 1984.

And if you know anything about coffee, you already know that family-run Lavazza is "Italy's Favorite Coffee," and invented the concept of blending different types of coffee from different geographical regions to create its unique products.

Francesca Lavazza, the Corporate Image Manager, is the great-granddaughter of the founder, Luigi Lavazza, who opened Lavazza's first shop in 1895 in Turin, 120 years ago, and she was here in Venice to present the new agreement between the city and her family's company -- her grandfather was Venetian.

Piero Rosa Salva and Francesca Lavazza
VELA is the Venice Municipal Council company responsible for marketing the City of Venice, and for the commercial development of its transport. VELA is the main organizer of the traditional Venetian events in town, such as the Carnival, the Regata Storica and the Festa del Redentore. It handles the season ticket campaign for La Fenice Opera House, the Malibran Theater, the box office for the Goldoni Theater, the Venice Biennale, Venezia Unica City Pass, all the main sporting events -- even the tickets for the vaporetto. The Chairman of VELA is Piero Rosa Salva, who is Venetian to his core.

Farmers Sift Coffee Cherries at Plantation by Steve McCurry, Brazil, 2010
The Foundation of the Civic Museums of Venice (Musei Civici, or MUVE) administers the eleven city museums, one of the most important complexes in Europe. By virtue of his office, Luigi Brugnaro, the controversial new mayor of Venice, is the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of MUVE. Only in office since June 15th, Brugnaro immediately made headlines when he yanked 49 books about tolerance from the city's pre-schools, sparking a Twitter war with Elton John and uniting 267 Italian authors who asked him to ban their books, too, in a gesture of solidarity. Brugnaro also cancelled the contracts of 18 city library employees, and declared that he would ban any gay pride parade in Venice.

© Gianni Berengo Gardin
Gianni Berengo Gardin, the renowned Italian photographer, was supposed to have a show about the cruise ships in the Doge's Palace, part of the MUVE museum complex, opening on September 19, 2015 entitled Monsters in Venice, "a powerful exhibition intended to make one think about these monsters that threaten Venice daily...", but Brugnaro, a strong supporter of the cruise ship industry, postponed it to coincide with an exhibit about his own plans for the lagoon. When asked if he would modify his exhibit, Berengo said: "Certainly not. I know even without the Ducal Palace, the exhibit will go on. I don't know where, but it will be a success."

Next, Walter Hartsarich, the respected President of MUVE, suddenly resigned after an impressive five years at the helm.

Luigi Brugnaro was on the list of speakers at the press conference on September 22, 2015 entitled LAVAZZA IN VENICE: A PARTNERSHIP WITH VELA AND MUVE and Presenting STEVE McCURRY, From These Hands - A Journey Along the Coffee Trail, but unfortunately could not attend because of another meeting. I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to hearing what he had to say, especially in the presence of Steve McCurry, another renowned photographer whose work captures the soul. I later learned that the mayor did attend the opening that evening, so it was nice to know that he did show his support.

A Young Man Carries a Sack of Coffee by Steve McCurry, Ethiopia, 2014
Steve McCurry and Francesca Lavazza have been working together for years on Tierra, Lavazza's first independent Corporate Social Responsibility project which focuses on helping small coffee farmers improve their conditions. Started in 2002, the Tierra project improves the living conditions and economic growth of coffee farming communities, building schools, homes, and infirmaries, and helping the farmers get the most of their their land and work. These are small farmers who actually touch every single coffee bean by hand, which are then blended together to create a special Tierra coffee, which you can buy and enjoy, and do your own bit for a sustainable future.

Francesca Lavazza is passionate about her family's coffee and glows when she talks about the Tierra project. They work with the Rainbow Alliance in a partnership that focuses on three fundamental issues: the quality of the end product, a concern for the living conditions of the people in coffee producing countries, and environmental impart. She said that Lavazza asked Steve McCurry to document the stories of their efforts because they liked his sensibility. They met eleven years ago over a cup of coffee. "That's the magical thing about coffee. It is a social drink that brings people together."

Photos from 12 different countries -- Brazil, Burma, Columbia, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Yemen -- have been gathered together in a book and an exhibition called, FROM THESE HANDS: A JOURNEY ALONG THE COFFEE TRAIL.

The Venice Insider Cat Bauer and Steve McCurry Coffe in Venice
Cat Bauer and Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry said how rewarding it was to see the farmers actually learn, and that coffee is part of our everyday lives, but we don't think about where it comes from. "I was a young man when we started the project, and now I have no hair."

The exhibition of 62 of McCurry's powerful photographs was designed by the architect, Fabio Novembre, to whom McCurry gave full credit for the unique presentation. The photos are blown-up and back-lit in a winding labyrinth that immerses the viewer in the lives of the coffee farmers. The show takes place in the new space down at Aresnale Nord, TESA 113, which has been restored into a very cool exhibition venue.

Young Woman from the Suri tribe by Steve McCurry, Ethiopia, 2013
It was refreshing to meet a company like Lavazza, which cares so deeply about sustainable development, and puts such personal care into their product and the human beings who produce it. It is an honor that they have chosen to support Venice, Vela and the Civic Museums in a three-year agreement, and that the first collaboration is the prestigious Steve McCurry exhibition.

In the States, you can find the Tierra blend at Gelsons. If it's not there, just tell them you want it. In the Bay area and beyond, you can find it:

Corti Brothers
5810 Folsom St.
Sacramento 95819

Corral Market
2 Corral De Tierra Rd.
Salinas 93908

Genova Deli
1550 Trancas Rd.
Napa 94558

Deluxe Foods
783 Rio Del Mar
Aptos 95003

Lavazza is a 1.34 billion euro business, the world's seventh ranking coffee roaster and the retail market leader in Italy with a market share by value of over 47% -- which goes to show that you can care about the environment and still make a nice profit.

Steve McCurry Exhibition at Arsenale Nord - TESA 113
September 23 to November 8
ACTV vaporetto lines 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2 - Bacini Arsenale Nord stop
FREE ENTRANCE, daily from 10:00AM to 6:00PM

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, September 21, 2015

White Heart in Venice - Piazza San Marco Lights Up

White Heart in Venice - Piazza San Marco by Venezia Rivelata

(Venice, Italy) Venezia Rivelata has taken the famous phrase: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" and thrown down the gauntlet.

Piazza San Marco was illumined by a great white heart made up of about a thousand Venetian residents holding white umbrellas and flashlights on Sunday evening, September 20, 2015, showing the deep love the people who live here have for their one-of-a-kind city that has been around since March 25, 421; that is, for 1,594 years.

Elena Tagliapietra & Alberto Toso Fei at Being Venice

Venezia Rivelata, or Venice Revealed, is a project conceived by Venetian writer Alberto Toso Fei and Venetian multi-media artist, Elena Tagliapietra, which included 12 separate events in historic locales over a period of two years to bring Venice's history alive in the present. Essere Venezia, or Being Venice -- the great white heart in Piazza San Marco -- was the Grand Finale.

The Red Rose in Piazza San Marco, the enormous human rose created on April 25 last year, Saint Mark's Day, was another one of the projects by Venezia Rivelata, which I wrote about here:

More Venetians than Tourists in Piazza San Marco and Open Arsenale

On Sunday, everybody arrived at 6PM, dressed in white and armed with flashlights. Al Duca d'Aosta, the Venetian high-fashion store, provided white umbrellas to all -- I'm sure they will be the most coveted umbrellas in town once the rainy season starts. Then we all got hearts painted on our faces, or wherever we wanted them.

Cat Bauer at Being Venice - Essere Venezia

The artists who created the project chose white because it is the color of purity, justice, hope and enlightenment, and enforces the long history of the struggle for human rights in the Venetian Republic. Venice was an astonishingly advanced and tolerant society, and created laws that we still argue about globally today.

Alberto Toso Fei, who is an expert in Venetian history, spoke about VENICE AND JUSTICE later in the evening at the Rialto fish market. Venice was the first State to abolish slavery in 960AD, and the first to regulate the use of child labor at the end of the 14th century. Venice was the first to create an Intellectual Property law back in 1474, and the first to enact laws to protect the rights of women.

Dancers in Piazza San Marco

While we waited for the sun to go down, dance performers put on a show in the center of the heart featuring Sara Bonfanti and Silvia Minervino; the dance group, WorkInProgress, choreographed by Federica Del Pol and Michela Pedrocco; and the amazing young crew Palextra, coordinated by Michela Vivolo, that had some very cool moves.

Then the highlight: as night set in, the lights went on in Piazza San Marco with electric candles in all the windows in the square. We switched on our flashlights and waved them around. Then we opened our umbrellas, and waggled our flashlights around underneath the umbrellas. Then most of us rushed into the center of the heart and ran around, while the others maintained the outline of the heart, creating the of a cracked and broken heart transforming into the image of a beating heart. When it was over, we all broke out into spontaneous applause. I really didn't grasp the enormity of the effect Elena Tagliapietra and Alberto Toso Fei had conceived until I saw the video. Here is the fast-motion clip of the result:


Essere Venezia - 20 settembre 2015 - panoramica from Venezia Rivelata on Vimeo.

(Here is the link for those who subscribe to Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog by email:

Then many of the group headed over to Rialto, once the world's trade center, where the 12 projects created by Venezia Rivelata were projected on a screen. After Alberto's moving JUSTICE IN VENICE reading, it was free traditional food and drinks -- some tasty spaghetti in saor and spritzes -- sponsored by Osteria Vecio Posso in collaboration with Iperdrink and Flairtender.

Venezia Rivelata at the Rialto Fish Market

The founders say: "The time has come for all Venetians who love this city to fight to keep it alive and return it to the people."

Go to Venezia Rivelata on Facebook.

Ciao from Venezia,CatVenetian Cat - The Venice Blog


Monday, September 14, 2015

72nd Venice Film Festival Wrap Up for 2015 & List of Winners

The Venice Insider
Cat Bauer at Variety opening party - Danieli Terrace - Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) It always takes awhile to return to reality after the relentless pace of the Venice International Film Festival, which started out this year on September 1 with a sublime ritual: the Variety opening party on the Hotel Danieli Terrace, the Ristorante Terrazza Danieli -- and ended on September 12 with the announcement of the winners at the Sala Grande on the Lido.

By now, if you have been following the action, you will know that the top prize of the Golden Lion surprised everyone by going to From Afar (Desde Allà), Venezuela's first-ever entry into the film festival. Written and directed by Lorenzo Vigas, it is a dark drama about the chilling relationship between a middle-aged gay dental technician and the violent young street thug he takes into his home. It would not have been my choice, but I can understand why it won with a jury headed by Alfonso Cuaron.


A War directed by Tobias Lindholm
I thought the Danish film A War was brilliant; it made me realize that the recent wars the US has initiated have had a powerful global impact on many countries. In the press notes, Tobias Lindholm said, "For the past 14 years, Denmark has been a nation at war. It has defined my generation, more than anything else, that we have sent young men to wars that haven't been about defending Denmark's borders but are based on a more abstract political choice. ... This film is my stab at processing Denmark's presence in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a process I don't think has remotely begun. It's high time that we address what we have sent our men off to in the name of democracy."

Heart of a Dog by Laurie Anderson
I've always loved how Laurie Anderson' mind works. Heart of a Dog is not just about her dog, Lolabelle, it is more like a compelling memoir in the form of video art, combining Anderson's unique storytelling with music, images and dreamy meditations on life and death. During the press conference, Anderson said that the spirit of her late husband, Lou Reed, was very present in the film.

From Indiewire:

"Haunting and celebratory at once, "Heart of a Dog" ultimately amounts to a contemplation of mortality. "The purpose of death is the release of life," Anderson asserts, in one of several moments that hint at a bigger picture." 

Rosa Tran, Tom Noonan, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman, Jennifer Jason Lee for Anomalisa
Charlie Kaufman is another fascinating mind filled with wonderful surprises; his latest adventure Anomalisa won the Grand Jury Prize. The stop-action crowd-funded film started out as live theater, and morphed into a film starring some amazing puppets -- there is even a sex scene. All the characters -- both male and female, old and young -- are voiced by Tom Noonan except for the two leads, the motivational speaker, Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, and Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, an anomaly in a drab world of sameness -- hence the nickname: "Anomalisa."

From Screen Crush:

"If Anomalisa was just formally brilliant, it would be worth seeing for that alone. But it's also as emotionally moving as it is intellectually stimulating. Puppets or not, Michael and Lisa are amongst the richest and most human characters in any movie in recent memory, and Kaufman remains without peer among working directors at simultaneously critiquing and empathizing with his lovably flawed characters and their bottomless neuroses."

Cat Bauer with Tanna Cast - Venice Film Festival
Cat Bauer with Tanna cast - Venice Film Festival
I was thrilled that Tanna won the Venice Critics' Week award, a prize worth €5,000. The International Film Critic's Week celebrated its 30th edition this year. Its mission is "to discover, point out and promote quality films and new filmmakers, to bring to the attention of the public artistic expressions characterized by innovative mise en scenes and the use of original languages. In short, the duty of Critics' Week is that of bringing to light directors that have a promise of authorship in them."
I hope that Tanna gets a wide release. Even though the cast speaks their native language, I think this is one of the rare films that non-industry audiences will watch with subtitles.

Remote South Pacific Tribe Arrives in Venice - TANNA at the Venice Film Festival

Future rentals: I enjoyed Amy Berg's Janis documentary about Janis Joplin, and was surprisingly entertained by De Palma by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, which was basically Brian De Palma, who received this year's Jaeger-Lecoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award, talking about all his films. Remember is worth renting if only for Christopher Plummer's performance of a 90-year-old man sent out by Martin Landau, his nursing home neighbor, to get revenge on a former Nazi who killed their families at Auschwitz. Some critics didn't like Shia LaBeouf as an Afghanistan war veteran in Man Down, but I did. The delectable food and gorgeous scenery in A Bigger Splash will make everyone wish they lived in Italy.

Jonathan Demme
As well as receiving the Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award 2015, Jonathan Demme was the President of this year's Orizzonti (Horizons) jury, a section of the film festival that focuses on new trends. Even though he missed his New York City premiere of Ricki and The Flash on August 3rd because he is battling cancer, I was happy to see that Jonathan was full of energy, wit and enthusiasm here in Venice. Free in Deed by Jake Mahaffy, which I did not see, won Best Film in the Orizzonti section. Here is the entire list of winners:

72 Venice International Film Festival Winners
Golden Lion: From Afar (Lorenzo Vigas) 
Silver Lion for Best Director: Pablo Trapero (The Clan) 
Grand Jury Prize: Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson) 
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Fabrice Luchini (L’Hermine) 
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Valeria Golino (Per Amor Vostro) 
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor: Abraham Attah, (Beasts Of No Nation)
 Best Screenplay: Christian Vincent (L’Hermine)
 Special Jury Prize: Frenzy (Emin Alper)  

Venice Horizons
Best Film: Free In Deed (Jake Mahaffy) 
Best Director: Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader) 
Special Jury Prize: Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro)Special Prize for Best Actor: Dominique Leborne (Tempête) 
Best Short Film: Belladonna (Dubravka Turic) 
Lion of the Future – "Luigi De Laurentiis" Venice Award for a Debut Film: The Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet)

Venice Classics
Best Documentary on Cinema: The 1000 Eyes of Dr Maddin (Yves Montmayeur)
Best Restoration: Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini)

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
If Anomalisa was just formally brilliant, it would be worth seeing for that alone. But it’s also as emotionally moving as it is intellectually stimulating. Puppets or not, Michael and Lisa are amongst the richest and most human characters in any movie in recent memory, and Kaufman remains without peer among working directors at simultaneously critiquing and empathizing with his lovably flawed characters’ and their bottomless neuroses.Read More: ‘Anomalisa’ Review: A Stop-Motion Masterpiece From Charlie Kaufman |
If Anomalisa was just formally brilliant, it would be worth seeing for that alone. But it’s also as emotionally moving as it is intellectually stimulating. Puppets or not, Michael and Lisa are amongst the richest and most human characters in any movie in recent memory, and Kaufman remains without peer among working directors at simultaneously critiquing and empathizing with his lovably flawed characters’ and their bottomless neuroses.Read More: ‘Anomalisa’ Review: A Stop-Motion Masterpiece From Charlie Kaufman |
If Anomalisa was just formally brilliant, it would be worth seeing for that alone. But it’s also as emotionally moving as it is intellectually stimulating. Puppets or not, Michael and Lisa are amongst the richest and most human characters in any movie in recent memory, and Kaufman remains without peer among working directors at simultaneously critiquing and empathizing with his lovably flawed characters’ and their bottomless neuroses.Read More: ‘Anomalisa’ Review: A Stop-Motion Masterpiece From Charlie Kaufman |
If Anomalisa was just formally brilliant, it would be worth seeing for that alone. But it’s also as emotionally moving as it is intellectually stimulating. Puppets or not, Michael and Lisa are amongst the richest and most human characters in any movie in recent memory, and Kaufman remains without peer among working directors at simultaneously critiquing and empathizing with his lovably flawed characters’ and their bottomless neuroses.Read More: ‘Anomalisa’ Review: A Stop-Motion Masterpiece From Charlie Kaufman |

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rabin: the Last Day - Bold, Courageous Film by Amos Gitai at Venice Film Festival

Amos Gitai - director Rabin: the Last Day
(Venice, Italy) I predict that Amos Gitai will win a major award at the 72nd International Venice Film Festival for Rabin: the Last Day. The film examines the conditions of sedition in Israel that led to the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner Yitzhak Rabin, the first native-born Prime Minister of Israel, on November 4, 1995 . Gitai said, "I don't think it was a conspiracy. I think it was written on the wall."

From the New York Times:

"The film is unambiguous about the forces it holds responsible: The extremist rabbis and militant settlers who damned Mr. Rabin for ceding land to the Palestinians that they considered part of their biblical birthright; right-wing politicians who were accused in the aftermath of having ridden a wave of toxic incitement against Mr. Rabin as they campaigned against the Oslo accords; and the security services that failed to protect him, despite the menacing atmosphere and the warning signs."

The film is factual, based on documents and transcripts, and probes the question who was responsible for the assassination? We know who pulled the trigger -- Eyal Yigal Amir, a religious fanatic, heavily opposed to the Oslo Accords. But what Gitai makes clear is that there was a concerted effort on the part of several radical forces in Israel that were against trading land to the Palestinians for peace at all costs which deliberately fomented an environment that allowed an extremist like Amir to thrive -- and get close enough to the Prime Minister to shoot him. "Three bullets that would change the destiny of our country," said Gitai.
Gitai said that Israel must recognize the Other, not ignore the Other. When Rabin decided to address the Palestinian situation, it was a step to address all the Arab neighbors that Israel must learn to live with. The Other exists, and peace must be made. Gitai respected Rabin because the Prime Minister tackled Israel's most complicated issue, and gave Israel a very brief moment of hope.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
From Indiewire:

"At the end of the short interview excerpt that opens "Rabin: The Last Day," the interviewer asks Shimon Peres, the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister of Israel, a bold, hypothetical question: Would Israel be more peaceful and more stable if Rabin had not been assassinated by right-wing radical Yigal Amir back in November 1995? 

You listen for the conventionally cautious response typical to politicians —perhaps a reframing of the issue, perhaps a protest at the unanswerable nature of a what-if. It doesn't come. Instead, Peres looks straight back at the interviewer and says, levelly and immediately, "Yes." 

The Israel/Palestine conflict, with its intractable religious, ethnic, historical and cultural divides, is so complex and so deeply rooted that such a bold declarative statement doesn't just sound surprising: it sounds dangerous."

Gitai would like Benjamin Netanyahu -- Israeli's current Prime Minister, who, in the film, was just as opposed to the peace process twenty years ago as he is today -- to come to the opening of the film in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2015, the 20th anniversary of Rabin's assassination. "I'm not sure he would love the film, but let's see."

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Remote South Pacific Tribe Arrives in Venice - TANNA at the Venice Film Festival

Tanna - Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) As I dashed across the lobby of the Palazzo del Casinò on my way to a press conference, I saw a bunch of dark-skinned people dressed only in grass skirts and loin cloths out of the corner of my eye. It stopped me short. "What's all this?" I asked in English. There were a couple of white guys with them. "It's for Tanna. At 2:00." Then one of the tribesman said, in English: "You should come." As I got closer, I saw that the men had sheaths around their privates, holding them in an erect position, and not much else. I said, "It's... impressive."

From the Hollywood Reporter:

"It's not often you hear the mischievous games of laughing children punctuated by the vexed cry of a boy yelling, "Catch her! She stole my penis sheath!" But then, the tiny island setting that gives Tanna its title, and the purity of the traditional tribal villagers who enact a story tied to their recent past, give that odd line a disarming innocence. 

This unique narrative debut from Australian documentary team Bentley Dean and Martin Butler is a soulful folktale encompassing both tragedy and hope. Told with captivating simplicity and yet richly cinematic, it combines ethnographic and spiritual elements in a haunting love story with classic undertones, affording a glimpse into a little-known culture."

Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain in Tanna
I'm very glad I did go to see Tanna, which features an active volcano named Yahul, the Spirit Mother. The Yakel tribe of Tanna, a 25-mile-long island in the South Pacific, still hunt with bows and arrows, have a shaman and a medicine man, and make their clothes and houses entirely from materials gathered in the jungle. Tanna is an island in the Republic of Vanuatu, an archipelago of 82 small islands, which was founded in 1980 after throwing off its British and French rulers, who were basically in it for the coconuts. 

The Yakel belief-system is called "Kastom," and it guides all aspects of their lives. They want to share their culture with the world, which is why they made a movie, and why they came to Venice. Before being approached by filmmakers Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, they did not know what a movie was.

The Yakel are in the House! Venice Film Festival
The script for Tanna was created with the direct involvement of the tribe based on an old Yakel song about a young woman who refused to marry into a rival tribe after being ordered to do so by the tribal chiefs as part of a peace treaty. Wawa loves Dain, and will never leave him, defying the entire community to be with the man she loves.

The Hollywood Reporter said, "Speaking in their native Nauvhal language and clad only in sheaths for the men and grass skirts for the women, they are irresistible natural performers informed by a culture in which storytelling plays a vital role. And one couldn't ask for a more tender or memorable pair of star-crossed screen lovers than Wawa and Dain."

The ancient tribal system of arranged marriages was changed after a rash of heartbroken suicides in the 80s shocked the tribe into realizing that the law was harming their culture -- if lovers killed themselves because they could not marry, there would be less children, and fewer individuals to carry on the traditions. The Yakel now recognize "love marriage," and say that making the film has strengthened their culture.

Marceline Rofit 
Marcelie Rofit, who plays Selin, Wawa's little sister, steals the movie and stole the hearts of the crowd in Venice. A fiercely independent little girl, the filmmakers based her character directly on her spirited personality. When asked how it felt to see herself up on the big screen, she declared, "I feel great to see myself!"

Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain
The entire experience became surreal when the Yakels walked out of the movie theater, into the lobby and then out onto the street. It was as if two different times and spaces had intersected in front of the Sala Grande at the Venice Film Festival -- real life time travelers from another eon plopped down in between the Johnny Depp Black Mass billboard and The Danish Girl. The Venice Film Festival zone on the Lido is a weird enough venue even for ordinary citizens; I can only imagine what kind of impression it makes on people who live in a jungle.

JJ Nako, Yakel Cultural Director
Jimmy Joseph (JJ) Nako was the engine behind the whole machine. JJ was brought up traditionally in the village next to Yakel, but as well as learning Kastom ways, he also went to school on the island of Espirito Santo, the largest island in the Republic of Vanuatu. He speaks fluent English, and was the translator, cultural interpreter, guide and advisor -- the go-to guy of the tribe. (JJ also turned out to be the fellow who told me to go to see Tanna in the first place.)

JJ said that he was proud of himself. "It is because of my passion that we are here." They never expected to be in Venice, but all of them were grateful and proud: "We feel at home." The village wants to communicate their way of life with the rest of the world. They ask: "What can you learn from us?"

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Danish Girl - Transgender Tolerance at the Venice Film Festival

Eddie Redmayne as The Danish Girl - Universal Pictures
(Venice, Italy) The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, is based on a true story about a Danish man, Einer Wegener, who, through pioneering surgery, transformed into a Danish woman, Lili Elbe, almost a century ago, and the wife who loved her. Both Eddie Redmayne, the Academy-Award winning male actor who plays the transgender woman, Lili, and Alicia Vikander, the Swedish female star who plays her wife, Gerda, have gotten raves for their performances.

If there is criticism, the reviews think the movie is too elegant and tasteful, and does not take enough risks.

From BBC Culture:

"The Danish Girl tells the story of one of the world’s first male-to-female gender-reassignment operations, and even though it is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s, ie, quite some time before Caitlyn Jenner, Hooper may have felt that it had to be decorous and decorative so as not to put off nervous viewers."

From Variety:

"In order to penetrate the conversation of “polite” society, however, one must play by its rules, and “The Danish Girl” is nothing if not sensitive to how old-fashioned viewers (and voters) might respond, scrubbing the story of its pricklier details and upholding the long-standing LGBT-movie tradition of tragically killing off the “monster” in the end."

From The Hollywood Reporter:

"One might have wished for a more adventurous approach to this moving story, particularly at a time when transgender representation has taken over from gay rights as the next equality frontier. On the other hand, maybe the film's conventionality is exactly what's needed at this time to enlighten mainstream audiences on transgender issues?"

I thought the movie got the tone just right, especially because it premiered here in Venice, a city famous for centuries for its religious freedom, freedom of expression, pioneering press and openness to other cultures -- that is, until a couple of months ago, when the new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, took office in June. Some of Brugnaro's first moves were to yank 49 pre-school books that dealt with tolerance and inclusiveness with respect to race, disability, sexual orientation and different types of families off the shelves, and then proclaim he would block next year's Gay Pride Parade.

Neptune Offering Gifts to Venice - Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1750)
One could just feel Venice, the Queen of the Adriatic, hitch up her skirts, let down her hair and apply a fresh coat of lipstick...

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, September 4, 2015

Johnny Depp Goes Where Few Movie Stars Dare to Go - BLACK MASS at Venice Film Festival

Johnny Depp at Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) Johnny Depp is getting impressive reviews for his powerful portrayal of Jimmy "Whitey" Bulgar in Black Mass - The Last Gangster which screened here in Venice this morning.

It takes a toll to watch a film with such a dark protagonist, let alone portray one and go where Johnny Depp allowed himself to go. The first question he was asked at the breathing-room-only press conference was: "How did it feel to be evil? Did you have to find the evil in yourself?" Johnny replied: "I found the evil in myself a long time ago. We're old friends."

From the Hollywood Reporter:

"Long-time Depp fans who might have lately given up hope of his doing something interesting anytime soon will especially appreciate his dive into the deep end here to personify genuine perfidy in the guise of legendary hoodlum James "Whitey" Bulger, the crime kingpin of South Boston from the 1970s until 1994, when he was forced to go on the lam for what ended up being 16 years. For a dozen of them he was second only to Osama Bin Laden on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list...."

Johnny Depp as Jimmy Bulger in Black Mass
 From Variety:

"The icy blue eyes of notorious Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger stare out from the screen in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” like the gaze of some confident jungle predator calmly lying in wait, holding his ground until the moment he moves in for the kill. And that same coolly calculated composure extends to every aspect of how the actor playing Bulger embodies the role, or rather disappears into it. But if Johnny Depp’s mesmerizing performance — a bracing return to form for the star after a series of critical and commercial misfires — is the chief selling point of “Black Mass,” there is much else to recommend this sober, sprawling, deeply engrossing evocation of Bulger’s South Boston fiefdom and his complex relationship with the FBI agent John Connolly, played with equally impressive skill by Joel Edgerton. Something of an anti-“The Departed” (which was partly inspired by the Bulger case), the movie has an intentionally muted, ’70s-style look and feel that may limit its appeal to the date-night multiplex crowd, but quality-starved adult moviegoers should flock to one of the fall’s first serious, awards-caliber attractions."

Johnny Depp - 72nd Venice Film Festival
Johnny Depp is one of the most famous people on the planet. I struck up a conversation with a photo journalist from China, and, yes, Johnny Depp is famous there, too.

Here are some questions and answers from the press conference. (I still take notes in long shorthand; I've tried to be as accurate as possible, and apologize for any errors):

Q: There have been fans waiting outside waiting to see you since 6:00 in the morning. Do you have anything you'd like to say to them?

JD: To me, the people who are waiting outside, who are dedicated and kind enough... those people outside... I never liked the term "fan"... I consider them our employers. They are the ones paying. It's a very warm feeling.... I thank my bosses outside.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp - courtesy Warner Brothers
Q: How does it feel to play a real person and not a fictional character?

JD: I've played a few characters who were actual human beings. It's a tremendous amount of responsibility whether they're deemed "good" or "bad." I looked at some FBI footage and listened to a couple of tapes where you could hear him speak, but mostly I was shooting from the hip with Bulger. He was a businessman and within the language of business he was in, he did what he had to do. He was a family man, devoted to his mother and brother. A very complicated man. ...I asked to meet James Bulger through his attorney, Jay Carney, and -- as expected -- I knew this wouldn’t happen... Bulger respectfully declined because I don’t believe he was a great fan of the book Black Mass. I also don’t believe he was a great fan of any of the books written about him. But Jay Carney was very helpful to me in finding James Bulger. First and foremost he said, "I ain’t gonna say nothin' that Jimmy wouldn’t want me to say. I will say this, and I’ll say this, but I won’t say anything over here." But Jay came to the set a couple of times and watched, and he gave me a lot of confidence because he said he could feel his old friend in what I was doing, which was a very high compliment.

Johnny Depp - Black Mass - Warner Brothers
Q: Depp was asked a couple of times how it felt to play someone who was a killer and also a family man.

JD: Nobody, no matter how evil we would consider them or that sort of thing, they never look at themselves as evil, they’re on a quest, and they feel what they’re doing is righteous. There’s something poetic about what he could do in his work, and at the same time, be of that very proud Irish immigrant stock who was loyal to his neighborhood, who was a great caregiver to his mother, who was very, very close with his brother who was a very upper-echelon politician ... and the people he grew up with like Connolly. Connolly was younger than Bulger; Connolly was a Southie boy, of the same stock. ...It was exciting and exhilarating to switch gears and go from 90 to 20, from 20 to 100.

Q: Regarding the Australian dog scandal: Did you bring your dogs to Venice to take them on a gondola ride?

JD: I killed my dogs and ate them under direct orders from some kind of... I don't know... sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia.

Q: Why do you have a desire to transform into characters in each role?

JD: I didn't really care about being an actor. I was a musician. I was stuck in a TV series that was -- you know, not to bite the hand that fed me, it put me on the map, so to speak, but it was very frustrating because you realize you end up saying more of someone else’s words in the span of a year than you get to say your own, especially when they’re badly-written words. My heroes have always been John Barrymore, Lon Chaney -- certainly Marlon Brando -- Timothy Carey, John Garfield, all the guys who would transform. So I suppose it was just an obsession. I always wanted to try to be a character actor more than the poster boy they tried to make me... more than a hundred years ago. An actor has some degree of responsibility to their audience to change, to give them something different, to give them something new, instead of playing yourself each time.There's great safety, but danger; it's very challenging to test yourself, to take the chance you might fall flat on your face and look like a complete ass. That's what I do for a living!

"I thought it was very important to look as much like Jimmy Bulger as was humanly possible. My eyeballs are as black as the ace of spades, so clearly the blue contacts... they were hand-painted because they needed to be piercing, to cut right through you."

Why is Johnny Depp so outrageously famous? Why do people line up for hours to catch a glimpse of him? Why did every journalist and photo journalist at the Venice Film Festival try to cram into the conference room, most of whom were relegated to watching one of the world's most fascinating movie stars out on the video screens?

Scott Cooper, the director of Black Mass, said that Johnny Depp was one of the most gentle, kind-hearted human beings he knew. "He is an actor who takes risks that most movie stars would never take."

Black Mass opens on September 18th.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,

Thursday, September 3, 2015

SPOTLIGHT - The Movie the Holy See Does Not Want You to See - Venice Film Festival

(Venice, Italy) Spotlight is a riveting film about the Boston Globe four-person investigative news team called "Spotlight," which exposed the Catholic Church abuse scandal in their own town back in 2002. It received long, enthusiastic applause at the first screening here in Venice by an audience that appreciated the guts it took by both the Spotlight filmmakers and the Spotlight journalists to document with facts and impartiality the emotional and spiritual destruction of innocent children by men doing "God's" work.

If you think pedophilia in the Catholic Church is old news, it is not: just this July, Jozef Wesolowski, the former Vatican Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, as well as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, was the first -- and highest ranking Catholic official -- to be criminally charged by the Vatican and put on trial because he “corrupted, through lewd acts, adolescents presumed to be between 13 and 16 years old, in order to carry out on them, and in their presence, sexual acts." Wesolowski also had collected an astonishing amount of kiddy porn, even after being recalled to Rome. However, Wesolowski became suddenly ill the day before the trial was to start on July 11, and then was found dead just a week ago, on Friday, August 28, 2015 about 5:00AM in front of his TV in the Vatican room where he was under house arrest. The Vatican says he died of a heart attack at age 67.

Going up against the darkness inside the Catholic Church can be a deadly business. Pope John Paul I, Patriarch of Venice, gave it a shot, but ended up dead after only 33 days. The Vatican said he died of a heart attack about 5:00AM on September 29, 1978 at age 65...

In order to charge Wesolowski in the first place, who, as a Vatican ambassador, had diplomatic immunity in the Dominican Republic, Pope Francis issued an edict in July 2013, just four months after he became Pope, that said the laws of the Vatican City State were also applicable to its employees throughout the world, creating the legal basis for the trial. Here is a headline from July 7, 2015, just before the trial was supposed to start: Vatican trial for Józef Wesołowski a pivotal moment for Pope Francis.

Michael Keaton as Walter "Robby" Robinson
With that in mind, you have to have a lot of courage to take on the Vatican, which is what both Spotlight the film, and Spotlight the investigative news team had. The film follows the journalists -- whose readership is predominately Catholic, as is the town of Boston --as they investigate the sexual abuse by priests. The journalists think they have an important story when the abusive priests total 13.  When they are informed that statistically that number is way too low, and, in reality, about 6% of all priests are pedophiles -- they run the numbers: 1500 priests in Boston means there would be 90 pedophiles... The enormity of the situation hits the reporters and the audience at the same time. After the Spotlight team investigates, they uncover more than 70 priests who sexually abused children that they can back up with hard-gotten proof. They also reveal that Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, the Archbishop of Boston, knew about the abuse and covered it up.

  • In 2002, the Spotlight team published nearly 600 stories about sex abuse by more than 70 priests whose actions were concealed by the Catholic Church.
  • In December 2002, Cardinal Law resigned from the Boston Archdiocese and was re-assigned to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
  •     249 priests have been publicly accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese.*
  • As of 2008, 1,476 victims survived priest abuse in the Boston area.*
  • Nationwide 6,427 priests have been accused of sexually abusing 17,259 victims.*
  • In the years since Spotlight’s report, sexual abuse by Catholic Church priests has been uncovered in 105 American cities and 102 dioceses world wide.*                                                                                     *Source:, a database compiled by Terry McKiernan. 

At the press conference here in Venice, director and co-writer Tom McCarthy was asked what reaction he expected from the Catholic Church. "I expect no reaction." McCarthy elaborated that he would love for Pope Francis to see the film, and react, but the Church often does not respond. He said he had "high hopes" for Pope Francis, but we just have to wait and see.

Stanley Tucci, who plays Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing some of the abuse survivors who understands well the dark forces he is up against, said he thought the new Pope was "extraordinary." "This Pope would be the person to do it."

Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo
Mark Ruffalo, who plays Mike Rezendes, a zealous journalist determined to uncover the truth, said he was more optimistic. He said he was raised Catholic, and that Christ was a social activist. "If you're raised Catholic, your law comes from Christ."

Michael Keaton was not here in Venice, but he was brilliant in the film. How Michael Keaton Saves Spotlight from IndieWire:

As Walter "Robby" Robinson, the veteran reporter at the helm of the Globe's clandestine Spotlight section, Keaton maintains his composure throughout — even as his focused gaze hints at a divided mindset below the surface. Like John Wayne's racist cowboy in "The Searchers," Robby is a well-intentioned representative of old world thinking attempting to find his place in a new terrain. In this case, that means tackling a story of corruption that stems from a world he instinctively protects.

Stanley Tucci, Tom McCarthy, Mark Ruffalo
From the press notes:

Spotlight might be seen as a bookend of sorts to All The President’s Men. When that movie about Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation of the Watergate scandal came out in 1976, it earned Jason Robards an Oscar® for his portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, the father of Spotlight’s Ben Bradlee Jr. It also inspired a new generation of journalists to examine institutions once seen as off limits. In 2015, Spotlight celebrates the virtues of investigative reporting during a period when many fear that long-form journalism has taken a backseat to 24-hour news cycles, celebrity gossip and sensationalized Internet “click-bait.”       
Over the past decade and a half, many newspapers have folded and seasoned journalists have lost their jobs, notes producer Nicole Rocklin. “With budgets slashed the way they have been, who is going to have the resources and the manpower take on stories like these? If these reporters hadn’t spent years of their lives on this, would it ever have come out? So it’s actually quite scary that investigative teams like this have disappeared from newsrooms around the country.”
McCarthy concurs: “Spotlight serves as a shining example of what professional, top-flight journalists can accomplish. I want to ring the bell about how essential this kind of journalism is, because to me, these reporters are straight-up heroes.”
Spotlight will be in theaters in November.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

This post was originally posted on 9/4/15, 12:32 PM Central European Summer Time. The date was changed for formatting purposes.